There’s a sandwich board sign outside a bottle shop advertising the wares inside: “Wines and beers and pictures of dogs”. Across the road, a tattooed, lipsticked maven puts the finishing touches on an on-trend, bespoke terrarium for a customer. Further up, window-shoppers eye a pair of Vivienne Westwood heels on fabulous, outrageous display, and on both sides of the street, cafes sling boutique, locally roasted coffees at socially distanced queues.
This is Canberra now – more than museums and monuments and Questacon, and more than enough to fill a weekend when it comes to good old-fashioned retail therapy.
The capital of cool within the capital itself is easily Braddon, as described above. A couple of blocks of Lonsdale Street arguably cram as much hipster spirit in as whole suburbs of Sydney or Melbourne. Start at Pop Canberra for cute artisan earrings and witty home-made cross-stitch goodies, regional wines and spirits, and one-of-a-kind souvenirs that are all locally made and sourced.
Moxom and Whitney is so much more than a florist or garden store – the terrariums and blooms within its doors are wonderfully crafted, with natives and on-trend succulents painting a pastel palette on the wooden shelves. Equally artistic is nearby Enigma Fine Chocolates; you won’t find many of the shop’s creations in boring brown, with most chocolates here ranging from metallic reds and greens to silver-dusted wonders heaped beneath the store’s cloches.
The mainstay of any hip shopping street is the gift shop: The Hive is one of many on Lonsdale Street, with a carefully curated collection of indoor pots, clever cards, silk scarves, notebooks and various tchotchke. At Bison Homewares, house-made ceramics and glassware have garnered a fond following with both Canberrans and those much further away; this passion project of creative director Brian Tunks has become a local institution since its origins in 1997.
The craft-beer movement has overtaken Canberra in the past decade, meaning you won’t need to go far to wet your whistle as you shop. Indeed, local hero BentSpoke Brewing Co has its Braddon Brew Pub sitting right in the centre of the action, where you can stop in for lunch or dinner on a hearty Ploughman’s Board of local cheeses, meats, and house-made beer bread, or perhaps some grain-crusted hot wings smothered in brewery-made sauce and malted blue-cheese aioli.
For something slightly less, uh, formal, you might want to pop over the road to the carwash at the corner of Lonsdale and Mort Streets – an unlikely spot for a beer, certainly, but you can find the Tochka Beer Point ‘beer van’ there most days, its chairs sitting in a sunny spot, its in-van Russian-sourced beer taps ready to serve you an eclectic selection of bubbles and brews.
For a sweet finish, Frugii Dessert Laboratory is a family-owned store, found in the boutique confines of the Ori Building on Lonsdale Street (across from Enigma Fine Chocolates). All ice-creams, gelatos and cakes here are made from scratch, and there are always a few new flavours to try.
If you’d like to stay close to the action here in Braddon, you can’t really beat the location of Marriott’s first property in Canberra – the Midnight Hotel. It feels a little more like an apartment block than a hotel (indeed, there are permanent residents) but the swimming pool and restaurant facilities make it a very pleasant stay indeed, and the whole thing is a mere block away from the centre of Lonsdale Street’s strip.
Once the realm of fireworks and adult stores, these days Fyshwick has taken its eclecticism in a more stylish direction. The Canberra Outlet Centre has long attracted bargain-hunters to its doors, but in 2019 added a Premium Mall so that shoppers can also visit the likes of Ralph Lauren, Oroton and Calvin Klein.
However, the real news in town is based around a much more hidden treasure, down a half-concealed drive sandwiched between Bunnings and Domayne. This former geological survey building is may not have a lot of character on the outside, but inside is Dirty Jane’s – an institution in the News South Wales Southern Highlands and already very warmly welcomed by Canberrans and tourists on the new Fyshwick ‘vintage trail’. There are around 90 stallholders here, selling a selection of vintage and antique goods, furniture, clothes, jewellery, homewares and more, with new artisan goods injected amongst it all too. The café is doing a roaring trade, and despite the business opening in 2020 – the worst possible year to start anything – it has been very quick to pick up a devoted following.
Not too far away, an equally magical atmosphere awaits – but in rather a different way. Quizzic Alley is the very successful passion project of Winter Paralympian champion Michael Milton, and reflects his obsession with all things fantasy and, particularly, Harry Potter. Inside, you can try on the famous ‘sorting hat’ from the popular JK Rowling novels and films, and right in the store itself, you’ll find the original, slightly beaten-up Ford Anglia that Ron Weasley himself drove/flew in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Fans can pick up great-quality merchandise such as a Hogwarts school robe, try a butterscotch-flavoured ‘Qbrew’ on tap, see if a magical wand chooses you and perhaps sign up for an in-house potion lesson.
For something a little stronger than a QBrew, it’s not far to the Capital Brewing Co for a suitably industrially themed session in the sun. The beers are popular throughout Canberra, and the brewery itself is completely independent and employee-owned. Both indoor and outdoor spaces are vast and suit the ‘new’ social distancing.